Introduction to Multicultural Counseling for Helping Professionals
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Introduction to Multicultural Counseling for Helping Professionals

Wanda M. L. Lee, Graciela L. Orozco, John A. Blando, Bita Shooshani

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eBook - ePub

Introduction to Multicultural Counseling for Helping Professionals

Wanda M. L. Lee, Graciela L. Orozco, John A. Blando, Bita Shooshani

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About This Book

Introduction to Multicultural Counseling for Helping Professionals is the essential introductory text in the area of multicultural counseling. Providing a broad survey of counseling techniques for different ethnic, religious and social groups, it is at once thorough and easily understood. Beyond its topic-specific sections, Introduction to Multicultural Counseling for Helping Professionals also includes chapters on the theory and history of multicultural counseling, expanded cultural resources, and an appendix explaining its interrelationship with CACREP accreditation requirements.

Now in its third edition, Introduction to Multicultural Counseling for Helping Professionals is updated and revised to reflect the changing landscape of the 21 st century. It contains updated statistics on fluid demographics in the U.S., a stronger social-justice perspective throughout the text, and a new chapter on counseling undocumented immigrants. The text is supplemented with online materials, including updated PowerPoint slides with discussion questions and classroom activities, a testbank with new questions for each chapter, and a sample course syllabus, each of which is presented in an updated, more attractive layout.

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The Future of Counseling: Becoming Multiculturally Competent

[B]ecoming culturally skilled is an active process, that … is ongoing, and that … is a process that never reaches an end point.
(Sue & Sue, 1990, p. 146)


The population of the United States is becoming more and more diverse. Thirty-eight percent of the current population is African American, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander American, or American Indian (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012a), yet the vast majority of counselors are European American by ethnicity and all of the major theoretical approaches to counseling were developed by Europeans (Freud, Jung, Adler, Perls, etc.) or Americans of European descent (Rogers, Skinner, Ellis, etc.). The counseling profession is basically a product of European American culture (Das, 1995). The field of counseling has evolved to recognize cultural differences in addition to ethnicity as important considerations in the counseling process: Gender roles, sexual orientation, aging, spirituality/religion, class status, and ability/disability. Understanding the complex social and cultural background of each client is integral to successful counseling.
This book is written for beginning counselors, practicing counselors, and other helping professionals who have not had previous formal training in working with multicultural clients. The purpose of this book is to introduce the reader to basic issues and concepts related to multicultural counseling, and to develop awareness and appreciation of the need for culture-specific knowledge in the counseling process. At the same time, it is necessary to point out that the information presented in this book on specific populations is a generalization based on what we know about a particular group, and professionals who work with a member of any of those groups must always tailor their work to the specific needs and circumstances of the individual client.


To begin the journey toward becoming a culturally competent counselor, you must first ask yourself, “What is culture?” Haviland (1975) defines culture as “a set of shared assumptions where people can predict each other’s actions in a given circumstance and react accordingly” (p. 6). When the client and counselor come from different cultural backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or age, they may not share the same assumptions about many things, including the counseling process, and counseling may be an uncomfortable, unpredictable interaction for both parties. The likelihood of a second session, let alone productive change, decreases.
Culture can be defined in many ways. According to Merriam-Webster (2012), it is “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” In this definition, the key lies in what is customary or normative for a particular group. In order to understand a client’s culture, the counselor must be aware of what is normative of that client’s cultural group(s). In this context, the client’s behavior can then be compared to how others in her or his group would typically behave. Actions that are abnormal in one culture may be adaptive in another.
Encyclopaedia Britannica (2006) defines culture as an
Integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that is both a result of and integral to the human capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Culture thus consists of language, ideas, beliefs, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, tools, techniques, works of art, rituals, ceremonies, and symbols … An individual’s attitudes, values, ideals, and beliefs are greatly influenced by the culture (or cultures) in which he or she lives.
There are many facets of culture and many of them, such as language, customs, values, beliefs, spirituality, sex roles, sociopolitical history, and so on, will impact counseling.
FIGURE 1.1 People’s attitudes, values, and beliefs are shaped by the family, neighborhood, and culture in which they were raised.
FIGURE 1.1 People’s attitudes, values, and beliefs are shaped by the family, neighborhood, and culture in which they were raised.
Culture is significant in several ways in counseling. First, counseling occurs in a cultural context, within an office, school, college, or other organization, and, beyond this, within a larger community or society. If the client must seek treatment within an environment that is culturally foreign, she or he may be reluctant even to initiate counseling. Second, as briefly mentioned above, appropriate assessment of a client’s problems should take into consideration the client’s culture. Third, counseling itself is culturally based. Counseling as it has been traditionally taught in most English speaking countries developed from historical and social influences most relevant to white, straight, able-bodied, young clients. Many cultures do not have a word for counseling, and the ways people ordinarily seek help within their culture may not include going to a counselor. Finally, culture itself may be the focus of counseling. When a client is going through cultural transition, when there are cultural differences interfering with intimate relationships, when a client has been the victim of cultural racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, or ageism, when a client’s personal culture is so different from that of the surrounding society that the stress is unbearable, then culture itself may become the center of the counseling process.


McGoldrick, Pearce, and Giordano (1982) described ethnicity as a sense of commonality that is more than national or geographic origin, race, or religion. Conscious and unconscious processes contribute to a sense of identity and historical continuity. Another way to look at ethnicity is as a perceived common ancestry, whether real or fictitious (Shibutani & Kwan, 1965). In this respect there are several broad ethnic groups within the United States: Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Latinas, Asian Americans, and European Americans. Some of these ethnic groups may have persons of several races grouped within them, for example, Latinos. What is salient in the United States is that members of these groups are perceived by others as having a common ancestry, even though there is much cultural diversity within each of these groups.


“Race divides human beings into categories that loom in our psyches” (Jones, 1997, p. 339). Common definitions of race tend to include physical or genetic grouping and a biological underpinning. Current research, however, indicates that there is often more diversity within a racial group than between racial groups. The term actually has more of a socially defined connotation. It is used on a limited basis in this book, primarily when the social aspects of such grouping are the focus of discussion.

Minority Group

Corey, Corey, and Callanan (1988) defined a minority group as people who have been discriminated against or subjected to unequal treatment. All of the ethnic groups mentioned above are minority groups within the United States except some European American subgroups who have historically been afforded the political, social, and economic power to discriminate against others. Using this definition of minority group thus includes women, gays and lesbians, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, because all these groups have been subjected to unequal treatment in the history of this nation.
A broad view of cultural differences in counseling and other helping professions requires that we become aware of and learn about many specific cultural minority groups who may differ from the counselor in a variety of ways, not limited to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or identity, age, socioeconomic class, religion, or disability.

Historical Context

Historically, there have been many ways of looking at cultural differences between people. How differences are viewed has been a reflection of the sociopolitical climate of the time. In the 1800s England was at the height of its colonization of other lands. Sir Francis Galton, a member of the ruling class and relative of Charles Darwin (who proposed the biological concept of natural selection), began to look at differences between people and concluded that they were a result of genetic deficiency. In this case, the social sciences helped justify the social and economic policies that kept the upper classes in a superior position. More recent writers such as Jensen (1969) in the 1960s, Shockley (1971) in the 1970s, and Murray and Hernstein in the 1990s (Morganthau, 1994) still promote genetic interpretations of differences between people.
Another view of cultural differences utilized a more anthropological lens. As anthropology developed into a social science, some may have been drawn to studying different cultures as primitive and interesting scientific curiosities, and others wanted to observe and record other cultures before they were destroyed by modern influences. The term “cross-cultural” in psychological literature originally referred to comparisons of behavior in different cultures, particularly different countries.
The next popular view of cultural differences surfaced in the 1960s along with government programs such as the Peace Corps and Vista. The meta-message of these programs was that other cultures or countries were in some ways deficient or deprived and in need of assistance. These sincere efforts stand in contrast to the centuries of slavery, colonization, and commercial exploitation of non-European peoples that continue today.
In the 1960s, people of color were described as “culturally disadvantaged” or “culturally different” (Jackson, 1995). This view assumed many sources of cultural deprivation. Nutritional deprivation (i.e., poor diet) contributed to mental retardation and physical susceptibility to illness. Environmental deprivation encompassed crowding, noise, and lack of stimulation, all factors that have negative psychological effects. Sociocultural deprivation included factors such as a lack of role models or parental encouragement. Linguistic deprivation meant a lack of exposure to “proper” English. A person from a cultural minority background might be considered disadvantaged in many of these areas, and many social programs were funded to address these possible sources of deprivation. However, the underlying message was still the implication that a minority person’s culture was in some way inferior to that of the majority. As described by Saba Ali and Julie Ancis (2005), “A major goal involves changing persons to fit mainstream America rather than changing mainstream America to accommodate the needs and preferences of diverse groups.”
The most recent way to view cultural difference assumes that no culture is more desirable than another, and explores the legitimacy and benefits of any differences between cultures as well as the sociopolitical context in which these differences occur. This implies a valuing of diversity as well as recognition of privilege. This perspective of cultural differences is particularly timely in today’s global economy where countries and peoples must increasingly learn to understand and respect each other for their mutual survival. What this means for counseling is that cultural differences between counselor and client are potentially beneficial if accepted and included in the counseling process. This is the background in which the current discipline of multicultural counseling has developed.
The study of multiculturalism is a relatively new emphasis within the field of counseling. Much of the professional literature on the mental health needs of ethnic minorities has only been written since the 1960s (Das, 1995). One of the first books on the subject was Paul Pedersen and colleagues’ Counseling Across Cultures (Pedersen, Lonner, & Draguns), written in 1976, and now in its sixth edition (Pedersen, Lonner, Draguns, & Trimble, 2007).
Some of the major theoretical developments in the field of multicultural counseling consist of: (1) The triad model, (2) research on culture shock and the acculturation process, (3) multiple developmental stage approaches conceptualizing cultural identity development, (4) the recognition of power in multiculturalism, and (5) the concept of multicultural competency. Paul Pedersen developed the triad model for use in training (1977). The roles of counselor, client, and “anti-counselor,” or embodiment of the problem, are used to simulate a counseling session and increase awareness and skills. Years of research on culture shock (Furnham & Bochner, 1986) have yielded models of cultural transition that can be applied to the experiences of foreign students, immigrants, and refugees in counseling. Also, many models of cultural identity development have been proposed and refined to apply to many specific ethnic and other cultural groups. Multicultural counseling recognizes power differences experienced by clients in their environment and within the counseling process (Liu & Pope-Davis, 2003; Mio, 2003). Social justice issues, therefore, are significant concerns in multicultural counseling (Sue, 2001). These issues are multidimensional and include, for example, full and equal participation and resource distribution, physical and psychological safety and security, and empowerment for all groups, as well as dismantling micro and macro inequities, joining with disenfranchised groups, and taking social action (Warren & Constantine, 2007). For example, McIntosh (1988) was one of the first to bring the concept of “white privilege” into awareness. Multicultural competency as a professional focus and theoretical construct has also led to the development of many assessment instruments. Each of these conceptual developments is discussed in more detail in later chapters.
The field of multicultural counseling is growing in maturity and some substantial accomplishments have been made; however, there continues to be room for theoretical development and subsequent research substantiation.

Further Development of Multicultural Theories and Research

There is a need for a more comprehensive, broadly accepted conceptual framework for the process of multicultural counseling. The most substantial contributions to multicultural theory so far have been limited in scope: Cultural adaptation theories, identity development theories, application of internal/external locus of control theory to multicultural counseling (Sue & Sue, 1990), triad training models (Pedersen, 1977, 1978, 1994), and so on. The field would be unified by a broad conceptual framework for the process of multicultural counseling that incorporates the counselor’s own level of cultural awareness, individually tailored assessment of the client’s cultural background, cultural adaptation processes, cultural identity development, the sociopolitical influences on both client and counselor, the use of both traditional and indigenous counseling techniques, and the complex interaction among client, counselor, and the societal context surrounding them.
Derald Sue, Allen Ivey, and Paul Pedersen—scholars who have themselves made substantial contributions to the field of multicultural counseling (Wehrly, 1991)—criticized the narrow focus of earlier counseling theories on feelings, thoughts, behaviors, or social systems, while ignoring biological, spiritual, political, and cultural influences. They attempted to create a comprehensive metatheory of multicultural counseling, A Theory of Multicultural Counseling and Therapy (Sue, Ivey, & Pedersen, 1996), consisting of six basic propositions and many ensuing corollaries. However, there is still no widely adopted unifying multicultural framework for use in training (Ancis & Ali, 2005).
With respect to research, studies t...

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